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Walter Jason

Reuther Murder Attempt
Is Concern of All Labor

(25 April 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 18, 3 May 1948, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DETROIT, April 25The attempted assassination of Walter P. Reuther, United Automobile Workers-CIO president, on Tuesday night, April 20, was more than a repugnant and cowardly act of violence against an individual respected and admired by thousands of workers. It was more than a shock and a personal misfortune. It was a political event of important consequence to the entire labor movement.

No one recognized this quicker than Walter Reuther himself. Although badly wounded, and in danger of losing his life, Reuther tried to catch a glimpse of his potential murderer, and his first words were,“It could have been Communists, management or fascists.”

Shortly after doctors gave him emergency care, Reuther amplified his comments in a statement to Prosecutor James N. McNally.

“I would say there are three possibilities, and I don’t know which to put in first place.

“There is the question of Communism which I have fought through the years, and they have told me they consider me their No. 1 enemy.”

“There are the fascists, cranks, who are just as extreme the other way, and the third possibility, there is still perhaps industry, people in industry who don’t want to accept the fact our unions are here to stay, and some management like that might have reverted back to the kind of tactics they tried eight and ten years ago.”

By way of further explanation Reuther said:

“As far as I know in the early days in the union, management hired people to try to bump me off. In the early days that happened.”

Important Questions

Prosecutor McNally asked, “What about this fight you have been having with 600 Local at Fords.” Reuther replied, “There is nothing of that in this thing. The Local faction you mean out there?” McNally said, “Yes.”

Again Reuther said, “I'd say categorically that is not remotely associated with this.”

One other important political statement was made in connection with the murder attempt. Victor Reuther, UAW-CIO educational director, brought out the question of the Russian GPU, by pointing out, “After all, if Stalin could send an agent to Mexico to kill Trotsky.”

What is important in this for the labor movement to recognize is that any of three major enemies of unionism might have tried to kill Reuther, and that Reuther firmly believes this.

That raises two important questions. Finding the perpetrator of this particular anti-union act of violence and second, defeating these enemies of labor so that no possibility exists for them in the future to try murdering union leaders whom they consider effective.

Anti-Labor Field Day

Nothing could be more ironical than the fact that the investigation into the murder attempt is in the hands of Detroit’s most vocal labor-hater, Harry S. Toy, police commissioner, who only recently called for lawless action against the Henry Wallace movement!

Is it a wonder that a witch-hunt hysteria was whipped up by him in statements to the press. Toy’s first order, which was rescinded, was around-up of all known anti-Reutherites and Stalinists!

Detroit’s anti-labor daily newspapers had a field day at the expense of the union movement. The Free Press had an editorial blaming “union politics,” the Hearst Times blew the Communist angle into a gigantic red plot, and the News did a murderous job in its headlines and stories. The conclusion became inescapable that Toy was more interestedi n capturing headlines than a serious investigation of all THREE possibilities.

Stalinist leaders in Ford 600 were questioned. An anti-Reutherite in Flint was questioned. George Addes was questioned ... all of which might have been done quietly, without a fuss, as a matter of routine checking, just like Reuther’s associates were questioned for clues. But the newspapers were determined, along with the police, to place the blame for the assassination attempt on the union movement.

On Friday, April 23, Toy announced he was asking for permission to examine the minutes of the international executive board meeting held Tuesday, for clues!

Every attempt is being made to smear the labor movement with the crime!

In the plants, the shock and anger was so great that the IEB issued through Emil Mazey, a statement urging calm, and asking the ranks not to take it out on any political groups, a very responsible attitude as against the hysterical statements of some Reuther followers who kept saying, “The Commies did it,” in an effort to create a lynch spirit against the Stalinists.

What is puzzling about the CP angle, or to be more precise, the possibility of the hand of the GPU, is the fact that the FBI has not been called into the case, and surely if there were a remote possibility of such an angle, J. Edgar Hoover would be here in person, making the headlines.

As for the equal possibility, to use Reuther’s phrase, that management might be behind the murder attempt, the city police have completely ignored it, although they know, for example, that in 1938 a Ford Service cop and a gangster tried to do a job on Reuther at his home. (These two men were acquitted, incidentally, by a hung jury, after pleading that Reuther had paid them $100 to do a job on himself for publicity.)

What about the fascist organizations supported by management over the years in Detroit? What about the old tie-ups between racketeer elements and managements in the past? Only recently Malcom Bingay, Detroit Free Press columnist, had an explanation, or more exactly, an apology for Henry Ford’s keeping gangsters on Harry Bennett’s “service department” payroll.

Outside of a mention in one newspaper that the police were checking on “suspects” in the old Briggs beating cases (Ken Morris, Genora J. Dollinger were two of the victims), this angle has been largely ignored.

What about the Ku Klux Klan, the Black Legion, the Gerald L.K. Smith fascists, the race-haters who provoked the race riots in 1943, who were behind the Sojourner Truth housing violence? All these are violent enemies of Reuther.

Only recently Reuther’s blast at Jim-Crowism in the American Bowling Congress provoked a bitter personal hatred against him by Jim Crow elements in the shops and in the city. Seldom was Reuther denounced as venomously as that week. Are those elements, who make up the lynchers in the South, incapable of trying violence. In 1943, 34 persons were killed and over 1,000 injured because these people provoked a terrible race riot.

The political climate for violence against Reuther, who symbolizes everything these fascists hate, exists in Detroit.

Likewise, Reuther’s regime has made it much more difficult for numbers and bookie elements in the shops to function.

All of these angles deserve the kind of investigation Reuther outlined in his comments on the assassination attempt. But a Jim Crow police department and a labor-hating police commissioner are hardly the persons to look under those conditions.

We must mention in passing the growing anti-Semitism, which is directed considerably at Reuther, and upon which the fascist scum breed. Whispering campaigns circulate through the shops about Reuther as a “Jew,” his wife a “Jew,” and Reuther having too many Jews on the staff. (In the pre-convention fight a leaflet with this line was circulated in the shops.)

The reward which the UAW-CIO and its locals offered, amounting to over $126,000 indicates how seriously the unionists take this matter, and how much they are concerned with finding the murderous gang behind this deed.

But no matter which of the three possibilities becomes a reality, if the killer is found, the social conditions for the hatreds, and tensions remain. Until these are removed their exists always danger to union leaders, and to the union movement.

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